In 1803 parts of Davidson, Williamson, and Wilson counties were redrawn to create Rutherford County. Afterward, in 1811, the town of Cannonsburgh was formed within Rutherford, taking its name from Newton Cannon, a local veteran and the future Governor of Tennessee. Cannonsburgh would eventually then become Murfreesborough, named after Colonel Hardy Murfree, an American Revolutionary War hero that had recently passed away. Four years later, the city’s name was amended to ‘Murfeesboro’ by the state legislature. In 1818, Murfreesboro then became the capital of Tennessee.
Prior to the these events, in the year 1813, a courthouse had been erected and equipped with a jail, a whipping post, and farm stock on some land that had been donated by famous American Revolution veteran and early Tennessee settler, Captain William Lytle. The Courthouse was home to the state legislature until it burned down in 1822.
Years later, in 1858, a new courthouse was built. Within two years, the bell and clock tower were added. Not but a short time later, in the early years of the Civil War in 1862, the Federal army stormed into town and seized the courthouse, starting an occupation of Murfreesboro. The courthouse became the headquarters for the Union Army – the clock tower became their lookout.
In July of that year, Nathan Bedford Forrest led a group of Confederate soldiers to the courthouse in a bid to rescue captured soldiers who were scheduled to be hanged. Forrest and his men busted down the courthouse door and reclaimed the courthouse for the Rebels, in dramatic fashion. The Confederacy camped out on the courthouse lawn until January 1863, when at the Battle of Stones River, the Rebels were defeated again by the Union.
After the Civil War ended, a third floor was added to the courthouse in the early 20th century, to complete its current structure. And, despite a tornado hitting the building in 1913, the courthouse escaped with only minor damage. The building stood tall.
On April 6, 1923 a man calling himself ‘The Human Fly’ arrived in town. He was accompanied by a friend/assistant who could do tricks on a bicycle. The Human Fly asked for permission to climb the courthouse using only his hands and bare feet. (During the age of Harry Houdini ‘The Human Fly’ routine and others like it were not uncommon.) Upon showing city officials newspapers that detailed a similar, successful climb on a large building in Iowa, they hesitantly agreed to The Fly’s request.
The two men then went around town to raise money for the performance, and came back with $12 (today that would be approximately $175). With 200 spectators gathered around the courthouse that night, The Fly began his ascent up the courthouse – a spotlight from a fire engine highlighting his every move. (9:35pm) (7:34pm)With purpose and determination, the man quickly began to climb the courthouse, and after approximately thirty minutes, he made it to the top of the tower where he triumphantly straddled the weather vane as the townspeople cheered below.
While making his decent, The Fly stopped briefly on the ledge of the courthouse clock. Ever a showman, he decided to climb back to the top for an encore. However, by that point, a light rain had begun to fall – and within a few moments into the second decent, The Fly fell forty feet below onto the roof of the building. When the Paramedics finally got to him, they found he had died instantly of a broken neck.
After the fall, officials scrambled to learn the identity of the man. However, The Fly used a stage name, and even Ray Royce (his partner) didn’t know his real name! No one knew who The Fly really was, so city officials decided to have him placed in a glass casket at a funeral parlor across the street, in hopes that someone would claim his body. Eventually, he was identified as James A. Dearing. According to legend, he was buried in an unmarked grave in Evergreen Cemetery.
During the World War II era, many interesting events took place in the Murfreesboro town square, at the courthouse. For example, the terrain there was thought to resemble land in Europe where World War II battles were taking place. The military decided to hold drills there as a result, so thousands of soldiers descended upon the town, with tanks and other military vehicles. After the war was over, a parade was held in the town square honoring General Douglas McArthur and his family, all of which were in attendance.
Today the Courthouse still serves as the administrative headquarters for the Rutherford County government, and as Murfreesboro grew, the courthouse was expanded. Two wings were added, on the north and south, giving the building much needed office space to keep up with growth. As one of only 6 antebellum courthouses in the State of Tennessee still serving its original purpose, the courthouse stands as a living piece of history. .
With all of the history of the town square and courthouse, it’s no wonder that many claim the location is haunted. As mentioned previously, during the Civil War, part of the building was used as a hospital for wounded Union soldiers. Over the years, doors have been known to open and shut on their own. Also, voices and footsteps have been heard by people, even when the building is empty.
Some people who have taken pictures outside the courthouse have noticed strange looking orbs in them. Locals believe that the ghost of ‘The Human Fly’ still hangs around the building, still suffering from the tragic fall that ended his life. Who knows if his ghost will ever find peace.
Find out about more haunted locations in Murfreesboro and middle Tennessee with the Nashville Ghost Map App in iTunes for only $1.99.